German Approach

Germans﹣those leading as well as those being led﹣prefer generally formulated, mission-oriented tasks. The mission addresses more the what and less the how. Overall responsibility for results on the tactical level lies almost exclusively with the implementer.

American Approach

Americans﹣those leading as well as those being led﹣prefer specifically formulated, command-oriented tasks. The order addresses not only the what, but also the how. Overall responsibility for results on the tactical level lies primarily with the implementer, but is shared by the team leader.

German View

Germans experience American leadership as too involved on the implementation level. American hands-on coaching can come across as top-down micromanagement. They perceive their American leader as "telling me how to do my job."

American View

German leadership is seen by American team members as distanced, not adequately involved, almost passive, at times even absent. Tasks assigned are so broadly defined that implementation can be difficult to define. Americans expect more detail concerning the what, but are often reluctant to address the issue.

Advice to Germans

If you are the team leader, make clear to your American team members to what degree you will spell out the tasks you assign. In other words, how they should do their work on the tactical level. Take the time to speak with them about where you draw the line between strategy (what) and tactics (how).

Develop an ongoing dialogue about where that line is. It is, and should be, fluid and flexible. Americans are motivated and successful when their team leader is actively involved in their work.

If you don't manage on the tactical level, you run the risk of becoming irrelevant. If you work in a team led by an American, remind yourself that your American leader wants you to succeed.

Your success is his/her success, also. If, for you, the how is too well-defined, too prescriptive, first reflect on it. Formulate your approach, then discuss it with your leader, so that he/she remains involved, can agree, overrule or modify. Engage, and remain in that dialogue for the entire duration of your work together.

Advice to Americans

When leading Germans be more teacher than coach. Germans want to succeed on their own and in their own way. Give them space. They'll come for advice soon enough. If they need your advice, but don't request it, send discreet, respectful signals that you're approachable, that you want to help.

As recommended to your German colleagues who lead Americans, establish a dialogue with your German team members about where you draw the line between strategy (what) and tactics (how). Depending on the situation, that line will move in one direction or the other. Remain in constant contact with each other.

Your boss is German? If it is not clear what she or he expects, don't request clarity immediately. Define your role. Rely on your education, training and experience. Then either execute based on that or request input.

If you do ask for input, go into the discussion like a junior partner in a consulting firm seeking advice (not direction) from a more experienced colleague. But, be prepared to hear "there is no need for me to spell that out for you. You’re a professional. You should know how to do your job."